5.0 Mustang & Super FordsProject Vehicles
Minimun-Wage Mustang Part I: For The Limited Budget Tuner
Building a 5.0 on a High School Budget
Step By StepView Photo Gallery
We remember what it's like to lust after all the cool feature cars and parts shown in magazines but not have the means to afford them. Hell, we're still in that boat. We all fantasize about having a blown, intercooled stroker under our freshly painted 5.0 hood and sending the obscene amounts of power through a set of 18-inch wheels on the way to low 10s in the quarter and IndyCar lap times. But once reality slaps us hard in the face and we realize that we're stuck with what we've got and precious little cash to put into it, it's enough to make us want to cry.
The best thing about 5.0 Mustangs is that they're getting cheaper by the day, and the cost of modifications is also going down thanks to the huge array of parts available, both new and used. So cry no more, as Minimum-Wage Mustang, our latest project-car series, is aimed right at the typical younger reader who doesn't have a million dollars to spend on his car and who must also rely on it for daily transportation. When you only have one car, you can't be tearing it apart to the point that you can't put it back together. You've gotta get to work or school somehow, right?
We're going to show how to build a nice and reasonably fast Mustang without a ton of dough. In fact, the cash outlay is going to be downright miniscule and in line with what a Kwik-E Mart paycheck allows. It's gonna take some time, and it won't be pretty for a while, but it'll be a car that anyone short of Steve Saleen would love to cruise. This is the opening salvo of Minimum-Wage Mustang, wherein we purchase the car and make it better without spending any more dough. We've got plans for the next several months, but let us know what you'd like to see, keeping in mind that the budget is severely limited (about $150 a month), and the car can't be torn apart for more than a weekend. Naturally there is a certain amount of car knowledge involved, but most 5.0 Mustang improvements are simple bolt-on affairs that can be done one at a time by someone who has a basic knowledge of how to drill a hole or turn a bolt. So let's get started.
Having a plan is one of the biggest keys to doing the job right. Realistically decide how much you can afford for the car, and how much you can spend on it each month. Don't forget to consider insurance and gas--the world's coolest Mustang won't do you any good if you can't afford to take it out of the driveway. Once you've got the budget figured out, plan the modifications that fit the budget. If there are parts that you just gotta have but they're more expensive than the budget allows, a month or two will have to go by while you save for them.
About that budget. Our fictitious minimum-wage 5.0 owner makes $5.25 for each of the 30 hours he works per week, bringing home a grand total of $510 per month. After calculating income and expenses, we came up with a total of $150.40 a month of disposable income to spend on the car, with a safety cushion built in in case the unexpected breakdown occurs. But first we had to get a car.
"You get what you pay for" does not necessarily hold true in the used-5.0 marketplace. Screaming deals are out there, and good deals are commonplace. After only a couple weeks of searching, we found an '86 GT for a mere $1,700. It's a bit rough around the edges, but it runs like a top and isn't missing any major components, and that's what's important.
After getting the car home, we wanted to make sure that it was in good running condition, was clean, and would be decent to drive, so we made a list of what it needed. On the list went anything we found that needed fixing. Changing the oil and filter was first, since we didn't know how long it had been since they had been changed. The whole car was quite dirty, and since a clean car is a happy car, we gave it a good washing. We blasted the worst of the grunge off at the local carwash, then raided mom's stash of kitchen cleaning supplies.
The carpets were fairly clean, but the seats had some funky spots on them. Spray foam upholstery cleaner got rid of most of them. For the worst spots, we needed to go more heavy-duty; the meanest carpet cleaner we could find was sprayed on and scrubbed until the spots were gone. Spots on the carpet were treated the same way. Plain old 409 was used to clean most of the rest of the interior, as the panels looked like they hadn't been so much as wiped off for years.
Looking underhood, the spark-plug wires were the originals from 1986, and the plugs were a cheesy no-name brand. These were put on the shopping list for this month along with a cap and rotor. There was oil all over the bottom of the car, indicating several oil leaks. Once the engine was clean, we could see that most of it was coming from the valve covers. All of the valve-cover bolts were loose, so we tightened them. The water-bypass hose was not looking too healthy, so that was replaced, too. The plug wires and plugs were removed one by one, and new ones were installed. The fan had a bunch of cracks in it but looked OK for another month.
While under the hood, we wanted to do something to improve the car, not just boring stuff like hoses and plug wires. We knew that there was an air-intake silencer under the airbox and while checking the air filter, we decided to make the silencer go away. The silencer is meant to reduce engine intake noise. The air-intake hole in it is fairly small and butts up against the back of the headlight. This doesn't make for very good airflow into the engine, so we removed it and heaved it into the trash can. Interestingly enough, while removing the silencer, we discovered there was a vacuum hose disconnected at the vacuum reservoir in the fender. When this was reconnected, the A/C and heater controls started working. Cool!
These are the first steps in what is hoped to be a long and pleasant relationship with the minimum-wage Mustang. The car will not be disassembled for longer than a weekend, each modification will make the car more fun to drive and own, and along the way you'll see how easy it can be to build a real car on a real budget. Over the next couple of months the list of things to do will no doubt get longer, but the budget will prevent all of them from happening at once. The plan is to keep improving the car without shooting the whole budget, and to have fun driving it every day. Again, we welcome your suggestions. Eventually, when this is all said and done, we'll have a bitchin' Mustang that hauls ass, yet is rock-solid dependable for daily-driver duty. 5.0